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Kansas Chosen For Free School Breakfast Grants

More Kansas kids may soon get free breakfast at school.

A program called Breakfast in the Classroom has added Kansas and six other states to the list of those eligible for the grant-funded program, bringing the total number of states to 18. The program has been in place since 2012 in the Kansas City, Kan., school district, but schools throughout the rest of Kansas will be eligible to apply this year.

Schools that take part in this private initiative offer breakfast to all students at no charge. Breakfast is served in the classroom rather than the cafeteria.

The idea is to maximize participation in the federal School Breakfast Program by eliminating obstacles that keep kids from starting the day with a healthy meal. Those include school bus schedules, late arrivals to school, pressure to go directly to class and reluctance to be labeled as “low-income” by attending the breakfast program.

According to a 2013 analysis by the Food Research and Action Center, most U.S. schools participate in the federally-funded School Breakfast Program, but only half of the low-income children eligible for a free or reduced-price breakfast are actually eating it.

“The benefits of children eating breakfast at school are well-documented and expansive,” says Princess Moss, Secretary-Treasurer of the National Education Association.

She says those benefits include better performance on standardized tests, better attendance and less disruption in the classroom.

The number of affected schools and children in Kansas won’t be known until after school districts apply for the funding. Until now, no state has had more than two school districts approved for the grants. The funding is for equipment and start-up costs to change the way the food is delivered—not for the food itself. That comes via the federal School Breakfast Program.

Thirty-seven thousand children have benefited from Breakfast in the Classroom over the past four years. The Wal-Mart Foundation provided $5 million to fund the program this year.

The consortium of national education and nutrition organizations that run the program, known as Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, anticipates adding another 25,000 students over the next two years.

More than 8,600 kids in 25-plus Kansas City, Kan., schools have taken part in the program. District spokeswoman Tammy Dodderidge says teachers have noticed a sharp drop in the number of students bringing soft drinks and chips to school since they began getting breakfast at school.

Almost 90 percent of the students in the Kansas City, Kan., school district qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Before Breakfast in the Classroom, only 37 percent of the students in 13 participating schools took part in the breakfast program.

“As a program, Breakfast in the Classroom provides noticeable improvements to child behavior and concentration, as well as decreased tardiness and absenteeism,” says Karla Floyd, Director of Nutritional Services, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools.

The program chooses individual school districts based on how many kids qualify for free or reduced-price meals, how many participate in the federal school breakfast program and the level of local support.

Note: This story was revised to include updated figures on the number of children participating in the Breakfast in the Classroom program in Kansas City, Kan., public schools. 

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